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Pittsburgh has experience in reinventing itself. When manufacturing declined and mills were closing back in the 1980s and later, the Steel City faced an identity crisis. Yet Pittsburgh still managed to keep a leadership position in steel while adding new layers of economic diversification that are still successful - high tech, biotech and more. (News flash: There are more jobs here now than at the height of the big-steel era.)
Yes, like everyone else in the country, we've tightened our belts, but Business Week ranks Pittsburgh No. 6 (right behind Boston) on its list of the best places to live during a recession. That's because nearly 30 percent of Pittsburghers now work in the usually recession-resistant medical and education sectors.
Old-guard companies such as Westinghouse have reinvented themselves, while scores of high-tech companies have sprouted from our universities' computer-science students. Even traditional energy has harnessed new technology to spawn a modern resurgence.
In some areas of the country, construction has tapered off, but in the downtown Pittsburgh area as well as out on the fringe of suburban growth, you can hear jackhammers and see new buildings on the rise.
Think there are no jobs to be had in Pittsburgh? Think again. "There are over 20,000 job openings [on the new job-search Web site Imaginemynewjob.com] and 30 percent pay $60,000 or more," says Jim Futrell, vice president for market research and analysis at the Allegheny Conference on Community Development, a longtime advocacy group for economic development in the region. In 2008, it launched Imaginemynewjob.com, a free job-search portal, which aggregates job listings from individual employers and search engines (such as Monster.com and hotjobs.com) within a 70-mile radius of downtown Pittsburgh, putting them in one easy-to-find location.
Pittsburgh magazine culled through these job opportunities and identified 10 job categories that are in demand - yes, even in today's economy. Read on to learn which jobs in the Pittsburgh region are hot, hot, hot.
It's no surprise that health care tops our list of hot jobs. The Pittsburgh Regional Alliance reports that about 15 percent of people here work in the health care industry - and nursing tops the list.
"Nurses are always at the top of the list because there are so many registered nurses that you need," says Linda Novak, director of human- resources development at West Penn Allegheny Health System. "It's the position we hire the most."
Nurses manage patient records via computer, handle medications, monitor vital signs and work with the doctor on the patient's care plan, explains Greg Peaslee, UPMC's senior vice president and chief human-resources and administrative-services officer. But most of all, "nurses must be empathetic - that's core," says Peaslee. "The inpatient nurse really is the primary caregiver for someone in the hospital."
UPMC expects to hire up to 1,500 registered nurses (R.N.s) each year for the next 10 years, and generally has about 200 R.N. openings at any given time.
Nurses usually make $40,000 to $80,000, says Lisa Bonacci, vice president of human-resources operations and services at UPMC, who adds that job flexibility is one of the great benefits of the profession.
"There is a very good prognosis for jobs in the future," says Peaslee, adding, "I think we will see more second-career people entering nursing."
Pharmacists, imaging technologists (MRI and CAT scan) and therapists (speech, occupational, respiratory and physical) are also hot jobs, say both Peaslee and Novak.
"Health care is such a dynamic area," says Novak. "You're not locked into the same position; there is a lot of lateral and upward mobility."
If you can repair, program, connect or manage computers, you're in high demand in Western Pennsylvania right now. Justin Driscoll, director of STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) talent acquisition for the Pittsburgh Technology Council, says there are generally 1,100 open positions on the council's Web site in any given month - most of them for high-tech positions.
"Pittsburgh is a very friendly market to people with experience," says Driscoll, adding that along with strong technical skills, these positions require good communication and writing skills. "The IT field traditionally pays very well," he says. Positions start in the low $40,000s and go to more than $100,000.
The hot jobs are: software engineers (who write computer programs), applications engineers (who deploy the software) and systems engineers (who connect computers to create networks). Typically, these people have a computer-science or information-science degree, says Raul Valdes-Perez, CEO of Vivisimo Inc., a Squirrel Hill-based company that develops internal search engines that enable companies to access information across all their networks.
His company's expansion accentuates the opportunities in technology: "We've been growing 30 to 50 percent per year," says Valdes-Perez, a Carnegie Mellon University graduate and former faculty member, who expects that trend to continue for the next five years.
Dave Semich, Pittsburgh Technical Institute's (PTI) School of Technology department chair, says, "Our IT graduates can design, secure and manage computer networks, and they can configure, troubleshoot and repair computer hardware and software systems."
Josephine Smith, PTI's associate director of career services, says graduates can also man a computer help desk and configure today's "smart homes," installing and networking home theaters, security systems, sprinklers and smart appliances.
If you have an engineering degree, Pittsburgh is the town for you. The success of Westinghouse Electric Co. in transforming its business to nuclear energy has dramatically increased the demand for engineers in the area. Vaughn Gilbert, the company's spokesperson, says Westinghouse hired 800 engineers in 2008 - and it expects to hire 500 per year for the next few years. About half of them will be Pittsburgh-based, he adds.
Nuclear power is 99 percent of Westinghouse's business, says Gilbert, and "is increasingly cost-competitive, and emits no greenhouse gases."
Gilbert says that Westinghouse primarily hires mechanical, electrical and nuclear engineers, all of whom design components for future nuclear-power plants and components to serve existing plants.
The company partnered with the University of Pittsburgh to launch a Nuclear Engineering Certificate Program in the fall of 2006, says Larry Foulke, director of nuclear programs for Pitt's Swanson School of Engineering. Adjunct staff from Westinghouse, Beaver Valley's nuclear-power plant and the naval nuclear-technology company Bechtel Bettis Inc. teach the course.
Imaginemynewjob.com shows more than 2,000 postings for open engineering positions. Westinghouse has the greatest number of openings, followed by companies such as Siemens, Tetra Tech and McKesson.
Anyone who tries to walk or drive around downtown Pittsburgh and its environs realizes there is a lot of construction going on with projects such as The Rivers Casino, the Penguins' new Consol Energy Center and PNC Tower.
But new construction doesn't stop in the city. There are new retail sites on the parkway around Robinson; Dick's Sporting Goods and Flabeg are expanding near the airport, and Westinghouse is finishing up its nuclear-energy campus in Cranberry.
In the manufacturing sector, Allegheny Ludlum has started a four-year, $1.16 billion new hot-rolling and processing center in Brackenridge.
"We are about 100 percent (capacity) of construction jobs right now," says Rich Stanizzo, business manager for the Pittsburgh Regional Building and Construction Trades Council.
Data extrapolated from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics shows the Pittsburgh region ranks fourth in the country in the increase of the number of construction jobs compared with 2008, says Harold Miller, president of Future Strategies, a downtown Pittsburgh-based consulting firm for nonprofits and civic organizations on economic development and other issues.
People entering the field must have a high school diploma or GED, pass a physical and take an aptitude test, says Stanizzo. Upon completion, they enter a four-year apprentice program. "It's an opportunity to make money while getting an education," he says.
Journeymen (finished apprentices) make $24 to $29 per hour plus receive health care and pension benefits, Stanizzo says.
"Learning a trade is probably one of the fastest tracks to self-employment," says Jeff Burd, president of Ross Township-based Tall Timber Group, a provider of construction-industry information. "You can make $40,000 to $50,000 per year using your brains and hands to solve problems physically."
Believe it or not, the recession will likely increase the need for accountants. The economic downturn represents an opportunity for the accounting industry, says Pat Thompson, people consultant for New York-based Ernst & Young. "It is important to the stability of markets to be able to rely on the financial information they receive."
The last big spike in demand for accountants came with the passage in 2002 of the Sarbanes-Oxley Act, which established new accounting standards for public companies after the failure of Enron, Tyco and WorldCom, says Thompson. "We're ripe for additional legislative activity right now."
Ernst & Young typically hires college graduates with accounting degrees and looks for leadership, initiative and communication skills. The industry standard for starting salaries right out of college is in the low $40,000 range, she adds.
In contrast, CPAs with at least three years of experience are in demand now, says Julie Sweger, division director for the California-based Robert Half Finance and Accounting. "Companies are looking for someone they don't have to train," she notes.
According to Sweger, the economic downturn has made credit and collections specialists (those who determine the credit-worthiness of clients and help with collections) hot right now.
Thompson is quick to point out that accountants can be found in all businesses. Imaginemynewjob.com shows some 1,300 accounting job openings with companies such as Bank of New York Mellon, PNC Bank and Bayer HealthCare Pharmaceuticals.
"No one is immune [from the economy]," says Thompson, "but accounting...it stands the test of time."